When Megan Fairchild performs in this year's New York City Ballet production of "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker," the 28-year-old Dobbs Ferry resident will be carrying on a tradition she started at just 9 years old.
"I've played everyone," she said. "I started off as one of the polis, or buffoons as we called them, that come out from under the mother's dress. I've played the Clara/Marie character twice, I've been a soldier, and have been playing the Dewdrop and Sugar Plum fairies for about eight years now in New York."
Fairchild, who will alternate between the two fairies at Lincoln Center this season and play Dewdrop on Friday's opening night, says that "The Nutcracker" is a rite of passage for classical ballerinas. "Everyone's done it and grown up doing it. Seeing 'The Nutcracker' for the first time is how a lot of people get involved in ballet. It's often the first time you see that ballet is about performing, not just a boring thing you do after school," she said.
And according to Fairchild, there's actually something exciting about performing the classic holiday piece. "If you do something so often, you find yourself in it. It helps you grow as a dancer. And it's great to rediscover it every time."
Fairchild moved to New York at 16, started an apprenticeship with the New York City Ballet in 2001 and officially joined the company in 2002. She recognizes that her journey from Utah to become a principal dancer in New York is the stuff that ballet dreams are made of; but it wasn't her childhood goal.
"I was ready to stay at Ballet West [in Utah] or go to San Francisco. The School of American Ballet [the official school of the New York City Ballet] gave me the most money. When I showed up in the summer, people couldn't believe how little I knew about the famous New York dancers. I was just happy with my Utah idols," she said.
"I wish I could say it was always my dream," she added, "but I didn't have a chance. It all happened so fast. Now when I take a moment and think about it, I feel really lucky."
The rigors of a 12-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week schedule coupled with classes at Fordham University, where she's majoring in math and economics, can be exhausting. But Fairchild gets some added support from husband Andrew Veyette, a fellow principal with the New York City Ballet.
Given the all-encompassing work of a ballerina, intercompany relationships are not uncommon. "I honestly don't understand how dancers get together with people outside their company," she said.
Veyette and Fairchild occasionally dance together, but it's an arrangement that's taken some practice to perfect. "Sometimes we are really hard on each other, because we can say whatever we want and know each other so well. We've gotten better at how we word things, but professional mixing with personal is difficult. He's a pleasure to dance with, but I also don't mind when we don't dance together," she said. (Fairchild's younger brother also dances with the company.)
When they have down time from their busy schedules, Veyette and Fairchild take it easy. "In between seasons, we'll have a week off and just kind of camp out. Sometimes we'll take our bikes from Elmsford to Sleepy Hollow," Fairchild said. But usually, they'll just relax with their two basset hounds at their Dobbs Ferry home.
"When we moved here, agents were telling us how there's an interest in arts in the town," she said, "but honestly, we don't have time to do stuff around here. We don't need to experience any more culture. We're kind of oversaturated."
Fairchild also appreciates having a little distance from Lincoln Center, and the city as a whole.
"Our jobs can be overwhelming, and that's part of the reason we moved out here," she said, noting that competition within the 90 person company is intense. "I need to stay balanced and pace myself because I want to be there for a while."
IF YOU GO
When: Performances of "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" run from Friday, Nov. 23, through Sunday, Dec. 30. There are about 50 performances in the season.